More Junkmail from Bob!

Friday, March 11, 2005
Important Stuff

World Wind

This is one of the neatest programs I've seen in a long time. It's free from NASA. You can pan and zoom around the world, and display just about any place in the world in detailed satellite imagery. There's a good selection of image data to choose from, and a great user interface.

It's about 100-110 Mb download, and the program pretty much requires a high-speed internet connection. It's worth it.

Breaking the Law

Moore's Law has been broken. The unstoppable CPU speed increases have stopped -- or at least slowed down a bit.

It's been a while since I upgraded my desktop, so I decided to see how far behind I am with my 3 ghz Pentium of May, 2003 vintage. I had to check because I didn't remember the speed or when I got it. You can see the speed of your system under Control Panel, System, General tab. You can usually see when Windows was first installed on a hard drive by looking at the creation date of the Windows folder. But sometimes I install Windows under the Winders folder, in which case I may not even have a Windows folder, and sometimes I move a hard drive to a newer computer or replace a hard drive on an older computer.

At $281, a 3.4 ghz Pentium is a little cheaper than the 3.0 ghz Pentium was 21 months ago. You can get 3.8 ghz Pentiums now, but they're priced pretty high.

Over the past 21 months, by this statistically invalid measurement, CPU speed has increased 13 percent, not 100 percent as predicted by Moore's Law. Actually, Moore's law was really more of an observation than a law or prediction. At any rate, computers are not getting faster as fast as they once were, even though newer CPUs are somewhat faster at slower clock speeds.

This may be a lull before some new technological storm kicks in. Or there may be some physical limits that prevent rampant CPU speed increases. Or it may be that people don't need faster computers as much as they once did.

I don't spend nearly as much time complaining about slow computers as I used to. I'm reasonably sure that this is not due to increased patience on my part, since I still tend to rant and rave about a lot of other things.

Here's what fast computers are good for:

  1. Image processing and digital photography.
  2. Game playing.
  3. Animation and video editing.
  4. Booting Windows.
  5. Finding the 43rd Mersenne prime.
Here are some applications that don't benefit much from fast processors:
  1. Web browsing.
  2. Email.
  3. Chatting.
  4. Most word processing.
  5. Most spreadsheets.
  6. Internet chess.
Programming falls somewhere in between these lists.

The two primary bottlenecks for most computer users I know are operating the operating system (Windows), and internet communication speed.

While CPU speeds seem almost stagnant, hard drives, flash memory, and system memory have gotten bigger, faster, and cheaper over the past year or two. It's not unusual to see hard drives priced at 50 cents a gigabyte, and system memory is generally under $150 per gigabyte. One-gigabyte flash memory, whether Compact Flash, SD, or USB drive, can be bought for $60-$80. These cost twice this much (+/- 25%) two years ago.

DVD-R drives are getting cheaper, priced between $50 and $100 now. Flat panel displays have also gotten cheaper over the past year or two, with 17" 1280 resolution monitors commonly available under $300.

Keyboards, however, are still priced at an outrageous $10 to $20.

I haven't mentioned video cards because I know very little about them -- you can ask my two elder toddlers if you need to know about them.

I've been buying components at lately. They're pretty cheap and reliable.


I've mentioned a few times in the past that the best way to convert Cuba to capitalism is to inundate them with tourist dollars. When enough people are making enough money from international business, the government will be obliged to become more internationally acceptable.

The U.S. government doesn't agree with this philosophy. They think that U.S. tourists should not go to Cuba. In fact, it is illegal for a U.S. tourist to spend a single penny in Cuba. That is a U.S. law, not a Cuban law. It seems to me that U.S. citizens should be free to travel anywhere on earth, and possibly anywhere in the solar system.

If you want to take a private boat or plane to Cuba, you can forget it. Last June the U.S. government decided that licenses would no longer be issued for U.S. private vessels and aircraft to go to Cuba -- even for "legitimate" non-tourism purposes.

About a year ago, President George W. Bush ordered the Department of Homeland Security to seize any boat that authorities "believe might be used for a trip to Cuba." Notice the lack of those bothersome terms like "probable cause," "evidence," and "proof" in that order. Ya just gotta believe!

Apparently Castro decided that 2 million tourists per year are a threat to the Cuban way of life. He announced a few weeks ago that Cuban citizens should not accept tips or payment in hard currency, and that Cubans should minimize their exposure to foreigners in order to "protect the purity of socialist values."

Here's an interesting site with news of Cuba:


The USS Jimmy Carter has been commissioned. It has a top speed of 33 knots submerged, with a 25 knot tactical (quiet) speed. At 453 feet long, the Jimmy Carter is about 100 feet longer than the earlier Seawolfs. It has a crew of about 130 people. It is a lot quieter than the Los Angeles attack subs, and quite a bit quieter than the new Virginia class. It has an extra-strong sail so it can break through Arctic ice.

The Jimmy Carter's extra length consists of its "wasp waist," or multi-mission platform. This is a 100-foot section behind the sail in which the pressure hull narrows to a relatively small cylinder. The area between the submarine skin and the relatively narrow section of pressure hull will be used as an "ocean interface." This makes it easier to carry things that will be dropped off and retrieved underwater, such as unmanned subs, divers, mines, and etc. When you consider that the submarine operates silently at water-ski speeds, you can see why it's a good idea to have extra equipment inside the skin of the submarine.


Here's what the MMP looked like before it was inserted into the submarine:

      mmp      mmp2

The USS Jimmy Carter is the 3rd and last Seawolf fast attack sub. The Seawolf class has been replaced with the Virginia class submarine. The Virginia is cheaper, slower, noisier, carries fewer weapons, and is less capable in diving depth and arctic operations. The Virginia class also has vertical launch capabilities, the latest in surveillance gear. It also has improved control systems that require fewer people.

Here are some pictures of the USS Jimmy Carter:

      040604-O-0000C-001      040604-O-0000C-002      041122-N-9693M-001

      050203-N-0000B-001      050203-N-0000B-002      050219-N-7441H-016

      050219-N-9954T-071      jimmy-carter-53      jimmy-carter-54

      jimmy-carter-55      jimmy-carter-56

Microsoft, Europe, and Software Patents

Microsoft threatened to close a development center at Vedbaek, Denmark and move 800 jobs elsewhere when Denmark supported EU restrictions on software patents, according to Borsen, a Danish financial newspaper. Microsoft said, "Did not! Did not!"

But in the end, Microsoft won the battle. The European Union overruled Denmark, Poland, and Portugal in favor of new rules in favor of stupid software patents.,39020330,39190497,00.htm

On a roll, Microsoft patented the IsNot statement in Basic programming languages. That sure seems like an elementary operation to me.,1759,1767520,00.asp

Land Office Business

You can buy 5, 10, or 20 acres of "beautiful" West Texas land on eBay really cheap. Unfortunately, the land is worth just about what it goes for on eBay. Some people feel cheated when they buy land under $200/acre and find out there's no road, water, electricity, or even high-speed internet available.

San Diego-based Zarzar Land bought 8,500 acres west of Valentine, Texas and has been selling it on eBay in 5, 10, and 20 acre pieces. Some others have followed suit. Some unhappy buyers have complained to state officials, but the officials "have found no fraud." After all, there are people like West Texas.

Silicon Laser

Last month Intel announced the world's first continuous wave silicon laser. That's similar to other laser and light-based products, but potentially a LOT cheaper. It may eventually be used in personal computers and toasters for faster and lower-power data transfer.

A day or two after Intel announced the silicon laser, the brightest galactic flash ever detected hit the earth. Intel denied responsibility.

Actually, the flash happened last December but wasn't reported until last month.

Esha Khoshnu, M.D.

Esha Khoshnu is a psychiatrist in New Jersey. She has been practicing psychiatry since she completed her training at Yale in 1993. I guess that means she graduated. If she practices long enough, she may learn how to do it. Esha's name is really hard to spell, so she must be a terrorist.

Last month Esha was headed to a conference in San Diego. She stopped in Phoenix to change planes. At the Mesa Airlines ticket counter she was "mouthy and snippy."

According to the Phoenix police, she said, among other things, "If there was an item in my baggage, the security screeners probably couldn't find it." Some news reports said Esha used the B-word, "If there was a bomb in my baggage, the security screeners probably couldn't find it."

To teach her a lesson, the airlines wouldn't let her get onto the plane. Some time after takeoff, Mesa Airlines or America West figured out that Ehsa's bag was not kicked off the flight like she was. Somehow, though, the plane managed to land on schedule in San Diego.

The security people by this time were really fired up, and they had the plane (America West flight 6264) taxi off to a remote are of the airport. They took the passengers, except Esha who technically wasn't a passenger at this time, to the terminal by bus. They took Esha's bag, which was technically a passenger, and searched it inside and out. Esha's bag did not contain any high explosives, low explosives, illicit drugs, contraband, or anything else they could hang her with.

But that didn't stop Homeland Security. After they thoroughly searched Esha's bag and its contents, they blew it up! Really!! I did not make this up. They blew it up with an explosive charge (provided by Homeland Security), then doused what was left with water.

Esha was not charged with any high crimes, low crimes, or misdemeanors. The Assistant U.S. Attorney in Phoenix decided her actions did not merit charges. She was not renditioned to Syria or detained at Guantanamo. In fact, she's free to roam the country and doctor heads. Except Mesa Airlines won't let her fly on their planes any more.

And the Department of Homeland Security? They may charge Esha $10,000 for the search and destruction of her luggage. Those people scare me more than any terrorist.

I flew commercial airlines from Oklahoma to Minnesota last month. I remember talking at an airport gate with my brother how you could probably smuggle a decent-sized bomb inside a computer battery or CD-ROM drive. This was after the security people got mad at me because I wouldn't take my shoes off. (I didn't have to take them off, but they stole a 1-inch tool I had in my carry-on to teach me a lesson.) We were not snippy, but we have both been known to be mouthy on occasion. It's a good thing Mesa Airlines or America West didn't hear us or we'd have had to make a trip to Walmart for new luggage!

Lucky for all of us, all cigarette lighters will be banned on commercial flights beginning April 14. This is so terrorists can't use them to ignite bombs. If this was a real threat, why wait until April 14th? If this was a real threat, why aren't matchbooks banned too?,0,1811296.story

Maybe this is a case where Homeland Security has more money than good ideas. Kind of like Augusta, Maine, where they were given $350,000 for a fire truck at the airport. James, Augusta's fire chief, learned about it when he read it in the Kennebec Journal. He says they don't want it or need it. They have a $10,000 fire truck at the airport that they rarely use, and the fire station is only a half-mile from the airport.

But they're not alone in Maine. According to Augusta State Airport manager Bob, 70 airports around the country are getting new fire trucks, like it or not, the low, low price of $24,000,000.

In other Homeland Security news, you're safe as an illegal immigrant as long as the weather's bad. The state police in Pennsylvania caught 15 illegal aliens, 13 from Mexico and 2 from Guatemala. The police couldn't arrest them because they had not broken the law. So they called someone who could -- Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Bureau. Homeland Security said to turn them loose because it was snowy and windy, and it would take too long and be too dangerous to get there. They didn't clarify why it would be more dangerous for Homeland Security than it was for the state police.

Spyware and Homeland Security

I hate to keep beating up the Department of Homeland Security, but they make it so easy I can't resist.

Under the Department of Homeland Security, the new 20-member Privacy Advisory Committee is charged with "protecting the privacy of personally identifiable information of citizens and visitors of the United States."

Gator is one of the more infamous spyware/adware publishers. They changed their name to Claria after a deluge of adverse publicity. Their software is considered adware and a search hijacker:

"Hijacks may reroute your info and address requests through an unseen site, capturing that info. In such hijacks, your browser may behave normally, but be slower. Search results when such a hijacker is running will sometimes differ from non-hijacked results."

So who better to go on the federal Privacy Advisory Committee than an executive from Claria? The Department of Homeland Security has appointed the Vice President of Claria to their federal Privacy Advisory Committee. Nice!

Army Games

The U.S. Army paid Pandemic Studios $5,000,000 to develop the computer game Full Spectrum Warrior. The army got the game as a training tool, and Pandemic gets to market the game commercially. With partner THQ, They've sold close to a million copies. Some people don't like the army paying for game development.

Ahmed Abu Ali

Last Junkmail I did a moderate amount of ranting about how Ahmed Abu Ali was being held in Saudi Arabia without charge. I don't think anybody listened, but they did send him back to the U.S. and he has been charged with plotting to assassinate the President to something like that. That is much better.

On February 21, 1803, Edward Despard and his six helpers were hanged, drawn, and quartered at Horsemonger Lane Gaol (jail) for plotting to assassinate England's King George III and to destroy the Bank of England. I don't think that will happen today.

Archaeological Fiction

Professor Reiner Protsch resigned from Frankfurt University after he was found out. It seems he faked carbon dating tests for the past thirty years. For example, a skull piece from near Hamburg is really 7,500 years old instead of 36,000 years. The "Binshof-Speyer" woman lived in 1,300 BC rather than 21,300 years ago, and the "Paderborn-Sande man", dated at 27,400 BC, only died a couple of hundred years ago in 1750. Reiner also had a tendency to sell university specimens, which was frowned upon by the University.

Frankfurt University's president Rudolf stated "It's not our fault! Reiner Protsch got his PhD from UCLA."",1564,1493421,00.html,12243,1418104,00.html


Firefox hit 25 million downloads last month. I don't think there are 25 million users, but there are a bunch.

Kyoto and China

Kyoto is a historic city in Japan. And I firmly believe you should use "a" and not "an" before "historic," "historical," and "hysterical" unless you're from Leeds or Brecken or somewhere east of the Atlantic where they don't pronounce H very often.

Kyoto is also an anti-CO2 treaty, aimed at reducing global warming. It went into effect on February 16. The treaty might even be historical. China is not required to restrict greenhouse gas emissions because it's a developing nation, like India and Brazil.

There's quite a bit of air pollution in China. Here's a picture I took in February 1993. The haze is pollution. They used coal for household heating, and it was really uncomfortable to breathe outside.


Here's a picture of some Chinese pollution in February 2005. They haven't quite licked the pollution problem.


Enceladus is one of the inner moons of Saturn. Saturn has 34 moons (so far), of which 31 have names:  Pan, Atlas, Prometheus, Pandora, Epimetheus, Janus, Mimas, Enceladus, Tethys, Telesto, Calypso, Dione, Polydeuces, Helene, Rhea, Titan, Hyperion, Iapetus, Phoebe, Ymir, Paaliaq, Siarnaq, Tarvos, Kiviuq, Ijiraq, Thrym, Skadi, Mundilfari, Erriapo, Albiorix, and Suttung.

Enceladus is bright white. It reflects over 90% of the sunlight it receives, about like fresh snow. In fact, it may be made of water. But at -200C, the water freezes pretty quickly.

Here's a close-up of the moon, taken by Cassini:


More Cassini news:

Another good "apod":

WSJ Online

I have sent an email or two to the Wall Street Journal soundly harassing them for charging for older online articles. Now that policy may be costing them some publicity, prestige, and literature references.,1284,66697,00.html


There has been a lot of press about ChoicePoint losing some peoples personal data. They didn't really lose the data. They just gave copies of it to the wrong people -- some Nigerian con men.

Lake Geneva

Last January 26, a cold, 70 mph wind blew some water off Lake Geneva onto some boats, cars, and etc., where it promptly froze. It looks cool. Cold, in fact.

These pictures were emailed to me. Those boats had problems.

      icestorm6      icestorm7

President's Day

There is no such thing as President's Day. It's officially Washington's Birthday that's celebrated on the third Monday of February. So we should still celebrate Lincoln's birthday ten days after Groundhog's Day.

Pentagon Bomb

Two guys "of Middle Eastern descent" went to McDonalds in Houston to get some food. They didn't like the food, so they threatened to blow up the Pentagon. So the FBI instituted a manhunt.

Airport Security

At airports, there are security people who make sure that machine guns, hand grenades, and fingernail files don't make it onto airplanes where they could cause endless carnage and hangnails. At 5 airports, private security firms secure the security: Kansas City, Rochester NY, Tupelo, Jackson Hole, and San Francisco.

Covenant Security won the $72,000,000 per year contract to protect San Francisco. That's a lot of money, so it's understandable that they would like to keep the contract. That means they need to catch the Homeland Security guys who try to sneak illegal contraband through the security gates.

So Covenant cheated. They tracked the security testers through the airport and alerted people at the security gates. A disgruntled employee spilled the beans, so this story may have been stretched a bit.

2^25,964,951 - 1

The 42nd Mersenne prime number has been found and verified by the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search. The prime calculation required more than 50 days on a 2.4-GHz Pentium 4 computer owned by a guy named Martin. The verification was done by a guy named Tony's 16 Itanium CPU Bull NovaScale 5000 HPC.

Here is a compressed text file of the binary digits. It compresses nicely for some "odd" reason.

Stupid Airplane Tricks

In 1998, a guy named Terry took off in a jet. He took off using only one of the two engines. (Terry did not work for British Air.) He had a copilot, but the copilot didn't have the required multiengine rating. "Witnesses reported that the airplane's nose lifted off about 4,100 feet down the runway and that it then became airborne with its wings rocking, attaining a maximum altitude of 5 to 10 feet above the ground before settling back to the ground, departing the right side of the runway and entering an upright slide for about 1/2 mile."

Terry got in trouble:

I was looking around on the Office of Inspector General site. Apparently they're the people who send you to jail when you really mess up flying an airplane or lying on an application. The FAA usually just revokes licenses and fines companies.


Looking for WKRP in Cincinnati on DVD? You probably won't find it any time soon. They used too many music clips, and the music people won't let them license it for a price cheap enough to make it worthwhile.,1412,66696,00.html

Bobby Fischer

Chess player Bobby Fischer is wanted by the U.S. for playing chess against Boris Spassky in Yugoslavia in 1992, when it was socially and legally unacceptable. Fischer won. He's kept a low profile several years, and has been no fan of the U.S.

Fischer was caught last summer at Tokyo's Narita Airport, apparently with an invalid passport. Since then he has been in detention at the Ushiku Immigration Detention Center for 9 months awaiting extradition, introspection, or something.

Money Talks

If I wanted permission from the National Park Service to cut down 130 mature trees so I'd have a better view, they'd laugh so hard they'd hurt. When Washington Redskins owner Daniel asked, they said, "sure, no problem."

Elliptic-Curve Cryptography

It looks like the National Security Agency is moving to a new encryption algorithm, elliptic-curve cryptography (ECC). Certicom of Missisauga, Ontario has licensed the technology to the NSA.

CIA Renditions

Here's a good article on CIA Rendition Policy. They have authorization from the White House.

Drunk Driving

There were 43,000 deaths in U.S. alcohol-related automobile accidents in 2003. Here's the breakdown by state:


An alcohol-related accident is not necessarily caused by alcohol, it's one in which at least one of the drivers had been drinking enough to be impaired. I think it's fair to say that most of the 43,000 deaths could have been prevented, though.

Around the World

The GlobalFlyer made the first solo non-stop 'round the world flight, with Steve Fossett at the helm.

Next? A solar powered flight around the world:

Aviation Accidents Revisited

The NTSB is revising the definition and requirements for reporting aviation accidents and incidents, to get more data.

This will require some incidents to be reported next year that weren't reported last year. So you can expect a increase in aviation accidents, but the fatalities will probably continue to decline.


Here's another "real ice sculpture."

RFID in Homeland Security

40,000 Department of Homeland Security employees and contractors will have smart ID cards next year, complete with RFID and bluetooth capability.,1848,66801,00.html

I think that's pretty neat, even if it is a waste of money. Some privacy fans see it as something ominous.


I have yet to watch a reality show episode, and based on this article I probably won't in the near future:

Avoid the Draft -- play Dungeons and Dragons!,7340,L-3052074,00.html

3 Out of 4

British Airways flew a 3-engine 747 from Los Angeles to Manchester, England a few weeks ago. They almost made it to London.,,2-1499342,00.html

The FAA says it was reckless. I agree. In addition to the obvious danger of flying a broken plane, the lack of an engine predictably caused them to be short of fuel.

Pictures of Today!

Spring has sprung. The birds are headed north.

      pict0913      pict0914

Twin Pacific cyclones Olaf and Nancy, on February 16, 2005. I think the island is American Samoa.

      Olaf.TMOA2005047_lrg     Hi resolution image

The Martian North polar ice cap, by ESA's Mars Express. The cliffs are almost 2000 meters high.


A B1-B getting ready for aerial refueling over Nevada and Utah:


The USS Harry Truman in the Persian Gulf last month:


Dust off the Sahara blowing into the Mediterranean, Libya and Egypt, February 28, 2005.


Two erupting volcanoes, Klyuchevskaya and Shiveluch, on Russia's eastern Kamchatka peninsula, on March 8, 2005:

      Kamchatka.A2005067.0055.250m      Hi resolution image

Interesting clouds over Alabama, February 24.


Nuclear power in Florida, February 18:


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I'm Bob Webster from Pryor. I can usually be reached at
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